By Kaelan Unrau
VANCOUVER — After a long struggle with addiction and depression, New York-based artist Stefan Sagmeister decided to scrutinize the root of his own happiness – or lack thereof. These reflections resulted in a massive interactive exhibit called “The Happy Show,” in which Sagmeister explores a set of questions that have been troubling philosophers and scientists since the time of Aristotle: How happy are we? What makes us happy? And how can we make ourselves happier?
Somewhere between an art installation and an educational tool, “The Happy Show,” which opens at the Museum of Vancouver later this month, has been likened to “The experience of walking into Stefan Sagmeister’s mind,” by museum organizers. Visitors can learn about the happiness-raising virtues of cognitive therapy, see their collective happiness measured in gumballs or even power boost their mood (and power a giant neon sign) by pedalling on a stationary bike.
For Vancouverites, Sagmeister’s exhibit comes during a time of increased isolation and despondency. In a 2012 survey, the Vancouver Foundation observed a widespread retreat from community life, resulting in a “high level of loneliness in metro Vancouver.”
“It is generally true that people are happier in smaller towns than larger ones,” explains economist and so-called “happiness expert” John F. Helliwell. “Generally, people in big cities are less rooted. Our lives are busy. And although there’s a lot of people around, no one takes the time to make those elevator conversations. We don’t find substitutes for the kind of social contact that happens easily, smoothly and directly in smaller centres.”
Alongside “The Happy Show,” the Museum of Vancouver will also host a symposium discussing the relation between happiness and community. Bringing together happiness experts from across the globe – from Helliwell to Meik Wiking of the Danish Happiness Research Institute – the symposium will centre around the question of how we can build happier communities.
“To make happy lives in a big city it’s important to change the way we do things,” urges Helliwell. “These kinds of social connections are absolutely fundamental to people’s happiness. We ignore them at our own peril.” By providing a space for public interaction, Sagmeister has given these connections an opportunity to grow.
“The Happy Show” runs from April 23 to September 7 at the Museum of Vancouver. The symposium – titled “From Evidence to Action: Inspiring Ideas for Happier Communities” – will be held at the Museum on April 21.BC, British Columbia, happiness, John F. Helliwell, Museum of Vancouver, pursuit of happiness, Stefan Sagmeister, The Happy Show